Planning a Trip,
Hearing the News
SUNDAY, MARCH 31, 2024 -- Springtime holidays--Palm and Easter Sunday, Purim and Passover and, this year, Eid al-Fitr--mean that families can gather, celebrate and decide when and if they can get away for a holiday together. For better or worse, the early spring events are one of the few times many extended families can gather in one place and plan.

It's what's happening at my place. We're building a June getaway to Britain around the odd occurrence of two baseball teams--the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets--playing at London Stadium. Fares and routes and dates have been compared, hotels weighed, stadium transportation plotted, side trips suggested and tickets purchased online for the theatrical version of Fawlty Towers.

It's also made me realize how blessed my life is. I can look at my bank and frequent flyer accounts and say, sure, let's travel for the experience. To see how other people are living. And, in this case, how Brits react to baseball. (No matter that my wife will suggest to perplexed Londoners that the shortstop is the smallest player or that I'll insist outfielders are positioned left, center and right based on their political affiliation!)

The mechanics of life on the road, as we can all attest, aren't much to E-mail home about these days. The flights stink. Hotels have forgotten service. The food is often forgettable. Schedules are awful. Security is annoying.

But the one thing that makes travel worth it is the opportunity to be somewhere in the world when something interesting is happening. If we do it right, travel forces us out of our cubicles and into the lives and times of people and places that we'd otherwise never experience. Some of you, I know, will chase the solar eclipse next month. Enjoy! A few of you will do the Olympics in Paris just because it is Paris. Bon chance! to you. And I'm sure the Brits will appreciate our disinformation about how much time in the bullpen jail a player must spend after stealing a base.

For every rotten flight I have endured, there has been a remarkable experience in a new place. Every mediocre hotel has been offset by a chance meeting with a fascinating person. Every smelly rental car has been balanced by a dazzling day poking around a town I never thought I'd visit. Every dinner of a Payday bar and a Diet Coke from a vending machine has been matched by a culinary treat someplace in the world.

I was on business in Australia in 1983 when the Aussie yacht beat the American boat for the America's Cup. I didn't know anything about yachting. I didn't know the Americans had never lost an America's Cup before. But I'll never forget the celebration in Sydney. I was there because I was a business traveler.

I was in Hong Kong once during a typhoon--and I wonder if I will ever get back again now that China's oafish rulers have made that once-freewheeling place a Potemkin village. I've discussed Pushkin with a Moscow cab driver--while we were driving past the Pushkin Statue in Pushkin Square. I met my wife, she of short stature who can plausibly tell the shortstop joke, on a business trip to Hawaii.

I have heard the call to prayers in Abu Dhabi and the church bells peel in the Marienplatz in Munich. I've been in Los Angeles on Oscar night. I've been to Paris in April. (Aznavour was right, Paris is better in August.) I've seen hyperinflation at work in São Paulo. I've watched the Dabbawalas at Churchgate Station in Mumbai, been scolded about my poor German by a Chinese lady in the Hauptbahnhof in Hamburg, been hopelessly lost in Ueno Station in Tokyo and spent hours in Milano Centrale. I can recommend the hotel next to the train station in Bangor, Wales, because, amazingly, I've been there.

When it comes to travel, I think that the brilliant singer/songwriter Melanie, who passed this year, said it best. "Hearing the news," she sang, "ain't like being there. Nothing's like feeling it when it's happening to you. Nothing is real unless it's happening to you."

I have found that travel, even when it is awful, is a wonderful antidote to hearing the news. Of course, I could hear the news about the Mets and Phillies playing in London Stadium. Being there will be better.

I'm a kid from Brooklyn and had never been more than 250 miles from home until I became a business traveler. I have now seen the Eternal Flame of the 1956 revolt in front of the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest. I have walked through the street markets of Seoul and Cracow and Mexico City. Speaking of London, I've read the Forsyte Saga cover to cover a dozen times in my life. But business travel allowed me to prowl the streets of London until I found Stanhope Gate, the Bayswater Road, St. John's Wood and all those other places I thought John Galsworthy had invented. What the hell did I know about Mobile, Alabama, or Billings, Montana, before I became a business traveler?

How many kids from Brooklyn, New York, ever get to see the Brooklyns in Connecticut, Maryland, Ohio, Illinois or Michigan? Or Brooklyn, Nova Scotia? Or the suburbs of Sydney and Cape Town named Brooklyn? Business travel has taken me to all those Brooklyns. They are all a long, long way from the Brooklyn Bridge and Coney Island. And it doesn't matter that those Brooklyns didn't have bagels or egg creams. Each and every one had something good to eat--and something I could learn.

And heaven help us, but Brooklyn is so trendy and such a brand now that London's Notting Hill has a restaurant called Sunday in Brooklyn. Mister Meatball, another kid from Brooklyn, has begged me not to go. But I dunno: If I'm gonna tell Londoners that the first baseman is always called "Who," maybe I also should visit Sunday in Brooklyn and explain that there are no corndogs or "chicken yummos" in the real Brooklyn.

I was on a business trip in Tokyo years ago when I somehow ended up playing second base in a pick-up game in a Shinjuku park. I learned more about Japanese people that afternoon than I had from all the books that I ever read about Japanese culture. I learned a lot about war and realpolitik at Mannerheim Museum in Helsinki and I am sorry to see that it has closed. I like to think I'm a relatively smart guy. Yet I learned a lot about America I should have already known when I got stuck overnight in Cincinnati a bunch of summers ago and found myself talking to a guy running a soul-food booth at a chili festival.

This is the one true thing about travel. Nothing's like being there.

Whatever trips you and your family may plan during your next spring conclave, plan to go in peace. Go to learn, go to share, go to experience. The lousy flights and bad hotels matter less if you meet someone new, learn something new, find something real. As the late Melanie sang, "because we don't know, we're trying to understand."

Travel helps us understand. It's why we do it. Why we should never stop doing it.